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The Sellout + Hillbilly Elegy • #1


Listen in to our book club episode on The Sellout, Paul Beatty’s satirical novel that won the Booker Prize in 2016, and Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance.

The narrator of The Sellout spent his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies. He is led to believe his father’s pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family’s financial woes. But when his father is killed in a police shoot-out, he realises there never was a memoir. All that’s left is the bill for a drive-through funeral.

Fuelled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his hometown, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town’s most famous resident – Hominy Jenkins – he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school which lands him in the Supreme Court.

The Guardian named The Sellout one of their best books of the year, calling it ‘A no-holds-barred satire about the history and legacy of racism in America’ but did it make for a good book club read? Kate reports back.

Hillbilly Elegy is J.D. Vance’s memoir of a family and culture in crisis, recounting his experiences growing up in an impoverished Appalachian town. Despite overwhelming odds Vance achieved success, serving in the Marine Corps before being accepted to Yale Law School. In his book he trains the spotlight on the poor, white working-class society he came from, people who felt forgotten by the system and turned to Trump as an alternative. Hillbilly Elegy became a key talking point after the election as liberals tried to understand the result. But did Vance’s book make for a good discussion? Laura’s book club found out.

If you want to get to know your neighbours better, how about starting a neighbourhood book club? Want to make it a respite from the bustle of daily life? Throw in a 20-minute silent-mediation session. We talk to Howard Green, whose book clubs connect him with his neighbours through friendship, good wine and spirited debates. As someone who lived for a time in the Himalayas, where a sense of community was not just a luxury but a necessity for survival, we find out how this translates to his life in the city of Norwich, and his unusual book club.

Listen here or via your favourite podcast app using this link.

Book recommendations

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance


Listen in to episode 80 for more on The Booker Prize.

If you enjoyed our discussion of Hillbilly Elegy, try our episode on Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain.

If the idea of silent meditation floats your boat don’t miss our episode on The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiesson.

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